Targeting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo: What else is new?

By MICHELLE MAZEL
August 9, 2009 20:48

The Israeli ambassador to Egypt enjoys the dubious honor of being considered terror target number one.




Targeting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo: What else is new?

cairo view 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

So they planned to kill an Israeli diplomat in Cairo. Was this the first time? Unfortunately not. Will it be the last? One certainly hopes so, but it is highly unlikely. Israeli ambassadors and envoys are targets wherever they are and are even more at risk than other envoys due to the animosity surrounding Israel in the Middle East and around the world. The Israeli government and the host countries invest considerable efforts to protect emissaries and their families, but it is not always enough. In 1984, an attempted assassination was carried out against an Israeli diplomat in Cairo, killing a junior diplomat and a young secretary; in 1982, ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov, an extraordinary diplomat of long standing, was gunned down in the streets of London and was severely incapacitated until his death in 2003; in 1984, a car bomb exploded outside the Israeli embassy in Cyprus wounding one person. The new Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem has dedicated a special hall to the ministry's men and women killed in the line of duty. The world has come a long way since the days when diplomats enjoyed the pomp and privileges of minor royalty. Today, it is open season year-round. Across the world, a number of high-ranking representatives of Western countries and even of the United Nations have been assassinated over the years. IT IS true that the Israeli ambassador to Egypt enjoys the dubious honor of being considered terror target number one, outranking the American ambassador. Israeli bodyguards assigned to his protection get a danger premium, while he himself does not. This is something I learned firsthand when I was there. For five years I lived in Egypt as "the wife of the ambassador." There was an ugly wall around the residence and armed soldiers posted around it. Whenever he entered or left, traffic would be brought to a standstill and machine gun-toting Egyptian guards would take position. Impressive security measures were taken to protect the convoy, with the ambassador's car sandwiched between other heavily-armed vehicles. It was not fun to watch. At times, too, it made for a difficult social life. Try meeting your husband for a romantic lunch or dinner when he makes an entrance worthy of the Godfather, surrounded by tough-looking types in civilian garb, their guns highly visible under the short jackets. Try going for a ride on the Nile with a dozen friends on board, plus a number of bodyguards, plus inflatable dinghies with coast guards zigzagging fore and aft. Sometimes it became just too much, like when we drove to visit one of the lesser-known pyramids in Fayoum. In dire need of restoration, the place stood in solitary splendor at the end of a deserted parking lot. There was not a soul to be seen - unless you take into account the hundred soldiers or so dispatched by the governor of the region to protect the ambassador. They stood under the blazing sun, making a protective circle around the crumbling pyramid. The only time the ambassador was allowed to go out on foot was on Yom Kippur, when he walked to the small synagogue not far from the residence, with soldiers lining the street and sharpshooters on the rooftops. What was perhaps more difficult to accept was the total lack of privacy. With Israeli security personnel inside the residence and Egyptian guards outside - not to mention sundry listening devices on the telephone lines and close monitoring of Internet surfing - there was nowhere to go for a quiet discussion. But we had practice. When Zvi was ambassador to communist Rumania in the last days of the Ceausescu regime, as in Egypt, he could not leave the residence or the embassy building without prior notice and an armed escort; there, as in Egypt, all his movements were observed and recorded. One learned to deal with the microphones in the residence's walls, including in the bedroom, hoping that the tips passed on by other ambassadors were working and that an open transistor broadcasting soothing music would mask whatever noises were being made. TRUE, IN Rumania all ambassadors were submitted to the same obsessive scrutiny, while in Egypt Israel was singled out together with a select number of sensitive countries. By and large though, Israeli envoys know they are closely observed wherever they are, including in so-called friendly countries. What is special to Egypt is the level of incitement directed at Israel. With the media relentlessly attacking Israel, it is not difficult to recruit volunteers ready to blow up the embassy or the residence. On the other hand Egypt's security services are always on the alert and so far have proved their efficiency. Let us hope they continue to do so. Of course, it is not so easy for the families. Think of the children being escorted to and from school - and not just in Egypt. In Paris already back in the 1970s, Israeli children were driven to the Israeli school under heavy protection, with an armed Israeli bodyguard inside the school bus and a police escort. All over the world, Israeli children watch their parents checking the car for bombs or other devices before letting them in. In short, Israeli envoys are on the frontlines of the fight against terror. Not that they get much credit for that. When Israelis are not competing in reality shows such as The Ambassador, they are busy criticizing their diplomats - and their wives. This is perhaps the occasion to sing the praises of those much-maligned women who forfeit all hope of a career of their own to follow their man. They endure the hardships of posting in far-off, difficult places, work hard to make a home for their children in strange surroundings and help them cope with the pain of moving frequently, changing countries, schools and languages. They host countless receptions and dinners - some of which they have to cook themselves - knowing full well that no one will ever thank them and that the only time their name will appear in the press will be in connection with some juicy scandal. What can I say. I did it for 40 years and I would do it again. The writer is the wife of former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel. She is the author of Ambassador's Wife published by in 2002, a personal account of the eight years she spent in Cairo with her husband.


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